The LAPD of today looks nothing like the LAPD of the 70’s. The old timers back then were haggard, rough and definitely shop worn. They hated everyone including themselves. That’s why they were training Officers. What they hated even more were young, fresh faced probationers. Whatever issues they had with the fairer sex would inevitably be taken out on you, the probationer. Issues at home? No problem. Issues with the kids? Again, no problem. Hangover? Really no problem. When you hit the car with them for patrol they were primed and ready to vent…on you, the probationer. Probationers were the perfect psychological foil. You can forget lawsuits back then…didn’t exist. You could forget going up the chain of command. Who do you think trained them? You took it and you liked it – plain and simple. I often wondered if they didn’t hate us more than the bad guys.
Most of these guys had an average of about 15 years on the job. Cynicism was par for the course. I was always referred to as junior. It was junior this and junior that. They didn’t like anybody. Didn’t like bad guys, didn’t like supervisors, didn’t like citizens, didn’t like victims, didn’t like cute fluffy things…didn’t like much of anything other than screwing with probationers. That they liked! It was the one thing in their life that couldn’t screw them back, couldn’t talk back, couldn’t look at them sideways and had to do exactly and precisely what they told them to do. It was the perfect marriage in their eyes. Divorce you say? If you thought that going to a supervisor concerning an issue you had with your training officer was, a good idea then think again. That was the ultimate traitorous act you could ever commit. To say that you would be toast from there on out is a mild understatement. You had not only betrayed your partner but the watch, the Division, the Department and the United States of America. You simply didn’t do it. You waited for him to either, take some days off, go on vacation, get sick or die. Those were your range of options until some unseen force intervened and set you free. Kinda’ like getting out of prison I suppose.
Mistakes were corrected the old fashioned way. I once screwed up a traffic report. My training Officer promptly ‘bought’ three more traffic calls. We went back to the station and he went home while I worked on the three reports all through the night, the morning and the next day until an hour before our PM watch started again. In he came to the report writing room, examined the reports made a few corrections and out we went again for another watch. Our well-being was not their concern nor was our mental health for that matter.
Anytime there was a search through a dumpster or filthy alley for body parts and the like, it would fall to the probationer to carry out the task, while your training Officer stood back supervising. If you can envision the filthiest, nastiest suspect you could ever want to come into contact with, who do you suppose had to search them? Back then we didn’t have fancy little latex gloves that Officers carry around with them today. Nope. You bought some black leather gloves that you kept in the back sap pocket and which you lost every single time in the space of one watch. After five sets of five gloves in five days you simply gave up and hoped you didn’t die from some unknown tropical infestation. I suppose their training Officer’s did the same to them so it was a sort of a skewed payback.
One of my training Officers was a former Marine Drill sergeant so you can imagine how well that worked out in the nurturing department. Despite the prevailing attitude of making the probationers life a living hell there were some good benefits. For instance you learned to do it right the first time. You learned to pay attention to detail. You learned about loyalty. You learned to be prepared at all times. If there was no forgiveness from them it was due to the fact that there was no forgiveness on the streets. It was always just you and your partner and that was it. By the time back up arrived anything going down was already well over. All you had was a glorified crime scene after that. You were expected to handle the situation just between the two of you come hell or high water.
In a sense those were some pretty heady days and it really gave you a sense of accomplishment at the end of each watch. Just two guys, one shotgun with had five rounds, two revolvers for which you had a total of 36 rounds between the two of you, two straight stick batons, and two handcuffs. That was it. Crush crime in the city, guard the citizens and restore law and order with the bare essentials and only your wits between the two of you. No wonder those guys were so tough now that I think about it.
The old timers had really worn leather gear and all the bluing on their revolvers had been worn to a silver metal finish. The hats were crushed and torn, the batons scarred and dinged and reflected the tiredness of their owners. If you want to watch a movie which captures some of this then watch The Choirboys. That’s pretty much what I experienced. The Ford Matador Black and Whites we used we called ‘city sleds’ and they were about as beat up as the old timers. They could really haul the mail but the air never worked and they were perpetually filthy and greasy and reeked of bad guys. If you were a ‘pretty boy’ or looking to make command staff then the streets were most definitely not for you. But…if you were a real honest to god street cop – then there was no other place you’d rather be. Somehow, the combination of beat up equipment, nasty training officers and the shared misery of other probationers made you feel a part of the streets and more importantly, the part of an experience. It was a very special era in the LAPD. Young Officers today ask me about it and I try to tell them but it’s rather hard to convey what a special moment in time it truly was.